Saturday, August 29, 2020

A Dog's Eye: Seekers V Truth Seekers

There are some people who seek truth and some people who just  seek. I want to examine this profound quote of mine by writing about two men from completely different worlds. One is living while the other is long dead. One is a very famous philosopher; the other a moderately famous philosopher. The former was a writer of books, the latter is a writer of songs. Both men thought very deeply and reflectively on life-origins, purpose and endings-before they put pen to paper. 

Here is just one sample of the lyrics from a song written and performed by American metal core band, As I Lay Dying of which one of our two men, Tim Lambesis, is the front man.


What is certain I have ignored
I have spent most of my life
Trying to complicate everything that I believe
So that while paralyzed
In thought I will always have an alibi
Just another excuse (just another excuse)
To hesitate (to hesitate)
Delaying true progress with passivity

The answers that I've found
Are all the same
They uncover questions
That still remain.

The other man, who lived in the 4th century, is Saint Augustine. His mother was a Christian but he dismissed her faith as a crutch for simpletons. He then began a search for higher happiness via the medium of education, investigating the philosophical teachings of Aristotle and Plato and those who followed, to re interpret or re imagine what had already become the chief pursuit of man: happiness. One of the key questions was whether happiness should even be a goal of life, and if so, was it possible to achieve?

Most people nowadays will honestly and easily tell you that one of the main purposes of this thing we call life is happiness. You will no doubt have heard someone, perhaps many people, say as an addendum to a conversation about choices and consequences 'as long as you are happy.'

Augustine searched everywhere for the elusive key to happiness-the meaning of life, if you prefer. In the end, like Solomon he found nothing truly worthy of his attention. Every thing was vanity and chasing after the wind. Naturally this discovery made both men miserable. Augustine ultimately returned to his faith and wrote his most famous book, The City of Godin which he very clear outlines the case for why the earthly quest for happiness is an exercise in futility. The lasting influence of Augustine on the universal Christian church cannot be overstated. At age 76, he died a champion of the Christian faith and remains so to this day.

As I lay Dying frontman, Tim Lambesis seems to have been on a journey himself, and this is most clearly seen in his very honest and introspective lyrics. His struggles with faith resulted in him abandoning his belief in God, and hiring someone to kill his wife after their marriage broke down. The hit did not occur, but Lambesis,was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder. He was later convicted and spent six years in prison, before rejoining his band and producing another high quality metal core album: Shaped by Fire. His current standing on matters of faith is unknown and entirely his own business.

For most people the search for happiness as the ultimate goal and purpose of life results in disappointment, at best, or devastation at worst. Although, the search for happiness is doomed to failure, still we pursue it. Everyone searches for meaning in life, for happiness to help ease the inevitable pain, but not all of these seekers find what they are looking for.

When Jesus said that those who seek would find what they were looking for, he wasn't talking about happiness. What are you looking for? And what kind of seeker are you? 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A Dog's Eye: L plates

L plates are squares of magnetic vinyl or plastic which are put on cars and other motor vehicles to indicate the driver of that vehicle is learning to drive. It is a legal requirement for the L plates to be displayed on both the front and rear of the vehicle. Except for motorbikes, the learner driver must also be accompanied by, and supervised by a fully licensed driver.

Exhaustive research* into the effectiveness of L plates for learner drivers has shown two things to be inarguably true.

  1. L plates have zero impact on the learner driver.
  2. L plates, despite the intention of law makers, have minimal impact on the behaviour of other drivers.
  3. L plates should be worn by adults, irrespective of whether they are driving a vehicle or not.    
In one sense, everyone is a work in progress. Nobody's perfect is a cliched often used by those who make mistakes or those who overlook the mistakes of others. However, cliches become cliches because they contain truth and hence are often repeated. Everyone makes mistakes. 

Mistakes may have one of two primary causes: carelessness or recklessness. Carelessness implies a lack of forethought to the potential consequences of one's word or actions. Recklessness suggests the consequences may have been considered but not seriously. Reckless people often believe they are immune from normal outcomes. There will be some degree of selfishness involved in decision making. A reckless person may predict possible negative consequences, but will decide the potential benefit to themselves outweighs the danger.

The next level in this progression is the heartless person who deliberately chooses to hurt people. Calling such harmful actions 'mistakes' would be a ridiculous understatement.

How do we live? How do we fit in? How do we get on in the world? How do we achieve contentment and live peaceable and productive lives? L plates please, while we figure it out. L plates for those who are still learning life lessons. Do I mean all of us? Or am I perhaps referring to special cases? Particular circumstances which may have happened to me recently?

My wife is learning to drive a car in Australia. She's an experienced and quite skillful motorcyclist who's used to driving on the right hand side of the road. Controlling speed and acceleration with her foot is something she is still familiarising herself with. We may have ventured into traffic a little prematurely. My wife may not have been ready for what she encountered in her first few driving 'lessons.' This may have been a mistake on the part of her instructor, and I may be that very person responsible for pushing her a little hard.

Nevertheless, there we were waiting to make a right hand turn from our street onto the main road. To cut a long story short we ended up stopped in the middle of the road, blocking cars coming from both directions. Immediately to the right of my wife was an angry driver. No harm had been done. We had simply delayed him, but he was going off his brain. If was difficult for my wife to shake off this experience and keep driving, but she did, because she's awesome.

The driver of the other car thought of nothing except the impact of the incident on himself. His anger and verbal abuse achieved nothing. No doubt he recounted the story to the next person he spoke with, and has probably retold the story many times since, with all manner of embellishment. He might often explode like that when people upset him, or we may have caught him on a bad day. However, the point is that uncontrolled expressions of rage are not uncommon. Moreover, such lack of self control is symptomatic of someone who is still learning how to manage their emotions.

Emotional intelligence is taught to children in schools nowadays, and so it should be, but teaching something -whatever it is- does not guarantee people are learning. We could wear L plates to indicate we are learning how to navigate some aspect of life or life in general, but that very action requires the kind of humility which is obviously absent in may people I encounter.

Despite all this philosophizing, it's possible the non L plate wearing driver who blew up at my L plate wearing wife is simply a tool: a rude, thoughtless and selfish man. Never mind. No one's perfect,

*I am not aware if any such research


Sunday, August 9, 2020

Snake Oil: Two monumental lies

I believed two lies which informed my life practice for decades, underpinning every decision I made. I learned these things indirectly, by observation and experience, and in the case of one of them, I was so deceived that I didn't even realize I was enslaved to a false and harmful philosophy. Both parsimony and lasciviousness ruled me as secret tyrants.

While these powerful, yet hidden lessons controlled me, I proclaimed my normalcy. It is not an unusual thing for a man to be careful with money, especially if he has a family to support. Saying no is a crucial sign of strength. It is also quite normal for a man to be frequently having inappropriate thoughts of a sexual nature, and even acting out these thoughts in some way. Saying yes is a crucial sign of strength. I learned these things from my father.

1. A man is not generous. He is stingy and controlling.
2. A woman is a thing for a man's pleasure. In sexual matters, a man does not deny himself, and women should accept that.

To be fair, Dad improved with age. he mellowed and became a better man. When he died, I lost one of my best friends. I still miss him and the great friendship we built over my lifetime, through many challenges. But dad taught me to be mean with money and to objectify women. 

I believe I was in my forties when I read this verse in the Bible: "One gives freely, yet grows all the richer, another withholds what he should give and only suffers want." (Proverbs 11:24)  I had considered myself a good steward of money, prudent and sensible, but upon reading this verse God told me I was stingy. I have been working on becoming more generous ever since.

In 2015 with my marriage over, partially as a result of infidelity on my part, I was sitting in church when an ad popped up on the big screen during the announcements segment. Upon hearing that this course, called Valiant Man, was about sexual discipleship, I felt God wanted me to do it. The course switched the lights on, exposing my slavery to the god of sex, and ever since I have been working on becoming a better man, a purer man, an honorable man who respects women.

One of the things I learned in the course was the value of emotional honesty and humility. Recognizing my behaviour in the arenas of 
money and sex, I had to admit I was a long way short of where I wanted to be. I wanted to understand myself and I wanted to change. I wanted, and I still want truth to change me.

In the individualistic and hyper-eroticized West, money and sex have become weaponized commodities. The great lie is that this is okay. This is the lie I believed most of my life because my father lived it out in front of me. I swallowed the snake oil, but I didn't know any better, nor did he. Now I've spat it out and rejected the lie.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Mirror: Becoming Better Men

Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse is an interesting spin on the the very popular Marvel superhero story. It explores the idea of parallel universes, each of which has its own Spiderman. The hero of our story is very briefly a second Spiderman in his universe, before stepping up into the main role and naturally, and humorously, disarming the super villain and saving the world.

This is not a blog post about the human thirst for superheroes and gods. It's very easy to understand their popularity from the standpoint of us having been created by God with a natural appetite for the spiritual world, and more specifically for Him. This post is not about the messianic overtones present in just about every action film ever because the need for a saviour, like the need for a hero, is built into us. It's not about how frequently familiar superhero characters and tropes are rehashed, reworked and represented. For, as Solomon once said, there is nothing new under the sun. This post is not even about the movie which was very funny and entertaining. It certainly is not about how the Blogger interface has been changed since last time I used it; leaving me displeased. 

This is a post about men becoming better men. 

In the film, Miles labours under the weight of expectation of his parents, particularly his father. Dislocated from his neighbourhood, his school and his friends, he feels a little lost. He feels he should try harder, do better, be better. These feelings of inadequacy are exacerbated after he is bitten by a radioactive spider, then meets Spiderman.

The desire to be better is partially inherent, and partially learned. Many factors come into play, but most men will, at some time in their lives, feel as though they are underperforming. They will know the shame of disappointing people they love. They will become ensnared by the desire to cover over what is wrong while they attempt to make it right.

Last weekend was a long weekend in Darwin. Forty two men from my church headed into the bush for men's camp. The theme of the weekend was 'becoming better men'. We ate together, watched a movie under the stars, heard some great teaching and participated in an afternoon of very challenging physical activity.

All of us want to be better men, but we are neither gods, saviours or superheroes. We are humans who acknowledge our own weaknesses, and don't pretend to be anything other than what we are. This is humility. We also recognise our strengths and find ways to use them to help other people. One of the key ideas underpinning the camp was that men who want to be better men, need other men who also want to be better men. If you lie down with dogs you get flees. Pauls puts it a little more eloquently, but no less forcefully, in his first letter to the Corinthians: 'bad company corrupts good character.'

Interestingly, the major take way for me from Superman: Into the Spiderverse was that Miles (young Hispanic Spiderman) needed the other Spiderpeople (include two females and a cartoon pig) to save the world. Spiderman is usually, a lone hero, but in this film it was very much a team effort.

I'll say it again, men who want to be better men, need to spend quality time with other men who want to be better men. This was the message of the movie and of the camp.